Perfect Strangers

First off, I cannot link my title, so you should click here, be transported back in time, possibly to a time that you did not know existed (you youngsters), and then do it again here.

So I hate to play Captain Obvious, but our man Dobbin is the chief stranger in Vanity Fair. Dobbin is time and again neglected and ignored. He is even treated as the stranger by the narrator. The narrator often casts him out of England, as Dobbin spends much of the novel in India, or elsewhere with his regiment, away from the narrative. We furthermore see Dobbin as the stranger early in the narrative, when he is picked on at school because his father is a grocer, though Dobbin of course changes his circumstances by standing up to George Osborne’s bully (40-44). He is ignored by his friends when an adult, as is observed by the Vauxhall party episode early in the novel (54-58).

Most enduringly, Amelia treats Dobbin as a stranger by ignoring his love. It is Dobbin that finances Amelia’s departure from Brussels after George dies with no reciprocation. And Dobbin provides some financial support for Amelia and George Jr., again, without much acknowledgement. Moreover, Amelia treats Dobbin like a stranger when she hears that he is to be married. She enthusiastically congratulations him, which causes him to feel miserably downcast because, “She would not see that he loved her” and, after he had cared for her in Brussels, “‘forgot me before the door shut between us!’” (436). Here Dobbin, the stranger, is not seen, but is forgotten. And it only gets worse for Dobbin, as he soon learns that Amelia herself is to get married (438-439). Amelia further treats Dobbin as a stranger when Amelia defends her old friend Rebecca near the end of the novel. Dobbin sees Rebecca’s manipulation and eventually returns to his regiment because Amelia is again choosing someone else over him (669-670).

What? You disagree? Okay, I can see how Rebecca can be seen as a stranger. She is the child of poor artists and is orphaned. While her duplicity, whether with Jos, Rawdon, Lord Steyne, or Jos again, is abhorrent, she is portrayed in a sympathetic light, which seems to stem, at least in part, from her always outwardly playing the role of the insider, yet never quite permanently eluding her outsider designation. Moreover, an argument could be made for Amelia as a stranger, with her pecuniary state and her subsequent estrangement from George Jr. that results from her poverty as the primary example of her being a stranger (494-498).

So, perhaps there are many strangers in the novel. As a closing thought, what do you think about children as strangers in Vanity Fair? George Jr. is spoiled by his mother, which could be construed as a form of distancing and neglect in contrast with a way of knowing a child. Furthermore, George Jr. goes to live with his grandfather, away from his mother, for a period of time. Does this make him a stranger? Rawdon Jr. is spoiled by his father, but he eventually takes his governorship and moves away. Moreover, Rebecca completely ignores Rawdon Jr. his entire life, until she learns that he has inherited the baronetcy and therefore has money. He therefore is not known by his mother at all and only moderately more by his father. Does this make him a stranger?

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